WASHINGTON: US lawmakers are debating whether they should attach more strings to the billions of dollars in aid they give Pakistan, or cut Islamabad off after Osama bin Laden was found not far from the capital.
Congress has approved $20 billion over the past decade for Pakistan, making it one of the biggest US aid recipients, with about half to reimburse Pakistan for help in fighting extremists.
The latest installment of more than $2 billion in military aid was approved just three weeks ago as part of a budget deal to avert a U.S. government shutdown.
Congress also provided for more civilian aid to Pakistan which could top $1 billion. Some lawmakers are demanding a halt to the aid now that al Qaeda leader bin Laden has been found and killed by US forces in a Pakistani military town, Abbottabad. But others say Washington still needs Pakistan as a partner to fight terrorism.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this week Pakistan had lost many soldiers fighting extremism within its own borders, and suggested more controls should be put on the U.S. aid instead of dropping it entirely. "I hope we will have better oversight of the money that is being given to Pakistan," Reid, a Democrat, told reporters.
Legislation in 2009 boosting civilian aid to Pakistan set out conditions for military aid, including calling on Pakistan to combat terrorists on its territory. The United States has pressed Pakistan for years to get rid of militant sanctuaries on its side of the border with Afghanistan.
There was also concern about the long-running ties between Pakistan's military and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan was furious about the conditions. Now some US lawmakers, including some who pushed to increase aid to Pakistan, question whether the conditions have been met.
"The notion of a close and strong relationship with Pakistan in part is premised on their cooperation in our confrontation with terrorist groups. The record so far is very weak," Representative Howard Berman, a co-sponsor of the 2009 aid bill, said this week.
The military in Pakistan "is not serving the interests that we intended that military aid to serve," Berman, a Democrat, told Reuters.
"Even before the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, I was getting more and more skeptical about what we are getting for our taxpayer money."
Certifying that Pakistan fights terrorists
Under the conditions in the 2009 law, no security aid was to be given to Pakistan in 2011-2014 unless the US secretary of state made certain findings, including that Pakistan had "demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups."
Progress that Pakistan made on "preventing al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups .... from operating in the territory of Pakistan" was to be taken into account.
The Obama administration made the necessary findings so that the 2011 aid could be approved, with its justifications classified, Berman said. But the administration has expressed ever more frustration with Pakistan, lately going public with it. Eleven days before bin Laden was killed, the top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of maintaining ties to militants targeting U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Mullen called for Pakistan to take a more assertive stand against the Haqqani network, a longtime insurgent faction allied with the Afghan Taliban. One US analyst expressed skepticism that new conditions on aid, should Congress develop them, would be more effective. "We and Pakistan are backing different horses in Afghanistan, so don't expect Pakistan to heed U.S. legislative provisions regarding the Haqqani network," said Michael Krepon, director of the south Asia program at the Stimson Center think tank.
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